PHOENIXVILLE - Twelve Phoenixville High School students competed with much poise and 100-watt smiles at Barkley Elementary school Saturday evening. Krista Foulds was crowned the 2004 Dogwood Queen.

Following 16-year-old Foulds' walk with new crown, sash and roses down the runway and through the crowd, much of the audience surged forward and onto the stage to congratulate the 2004 Dogwood Queen, with many presenting flowers.

Disco music blared through the speakers much of the evening and kept feet tapping in the nearly sold-out auditorium. The event program featured a white-suited John Travolta on the cover. A Travolta look-alike graced the stage for much of the night as disco music often serenaded the contestants.

As part of the show contestants sang and performed a mostly original song to "Dancing Queen" by Abba with the lyrics, "Dogwood Queen, young and sweet, only 17."

The 53th annual Dogwood Pageant is the oldest running high school pageant on the East Coast. The Phoenixville Jaycees run the yearly pageant, plus the Dogwood Ball, scheduled for Saturday, May 8, and the Dogwood Festival, which runs from May 10-15 in Reeves Park that attracts thousands of visitors. The festival will be capped off on Saturday, May 15, with a parade. The new Dogwood Queen will ride on a float with her court as part of the festivities.

Immediately following the ceremony, with a tear in her eye, Foulds was a gracious winner.

"It went by so fast," she said. "We all grew together like a big family. It feels like a dream. I wish everyone could win. Everyone's a winner in my eyes. I couldn't have done anything without the support of my family and friends."

Jaycee Alan Hughes kept things moving along as emcee with a fine-tuned sense of humor.

Three judges, Heidi Kline, Stephanie Mitchell and Jennifer Becht, whittled down the field to five while judging three categories: Personality, Talent and Modeling for Poise and Grace.

Five young women were recognized as finalists. Other contestants included Brooke Norris, Bethanne Gregory, Kaitlin Fritz, Chelsie Wagner, Carlisa Hyden, Kimberly Hinkle and Laura Ng.

In addition to Foulds, the other finalists included Kelli McDonald, who enjoys track and field, softball and hopes to earn a college degree in business administration; Elizabeth Martinez, who loves singing, dancing , cooking, whose favorite class at PAHS is biology and who hopes to work in the Neonatology medical field; Jessica Di Paul, who loves history, is a member of the French Club, takes dance lessons and hopes to become a Broadway star; and First Runner-Up Azalia Alicea, who translates Spanish for the community and hopes to have a career in forensic science.

A high-spirited talent competition saw several contestants play the piano, while others danced and sang, with one contestant playing the flute. Foulds performed a self-choreographed dance and gymnastic routine to "Smooth Criminal." Alicea won the Most Original Talent award after combining a talk about Puerto Rico and then performing a traditional song and dance, the Salsa.

Hinkle won the much coveted Angie Jaworski - Miss Congeniality Award, which was given following a vote by her fellow contestants.

2003 Dogwood Queen Claire Thompson said that she enjoyed her yearlong reign. Her favorite part of the job was the interaction with children.

"I really enjoyed seeing the faces of little kids when they tried on my crown," said Thompson.

The five finalists were each asked two questions. The first question was, "Regarding the war in Iraq, do you believe we should stay? Why or why not?"

Four of five finalists were in favor of keeping U.S troops in Iraq. Founds answered the question without hesitation.

"We should stay in Iraq because I back up President Bush's decision. There is no price on freedom," she said.

Foulds answered the second question, which asked what the best thing was that Phoenixville had to offer, by saying that the historical sites, including the Colonial Theatre, were Phoenixville's best assets.

Foulds also won an award for promoting the pageant best among contestants.

Toni and Tom Foulds were overjoyed at their daughter's success.

"After I wiped a tear out of my eye, I was shaking because I was so happy for Krista," said Tom Foulds. "I was amazed at how grown up she looked tonight (Saturday)."

The new queen was formerly a contestant in the Dogwood Prince and Princess Contest, which is open to ages five to eight.

"She's a beautiful girl and she carried herself very well," said Toni Foulds.

The new queen participates in both winter and spring track and field as a pole vaulter, counsels HIV-infected children at camp, is on the track club, won the All American Cheerleader award, is a national gymnast and hopes to teach special education after graduating from college.

Audience member Joan Krier was impressed with the contestants.

"They put so much effort into it," said Krier. "I can't believe how professional they look."

Chelise Reinhart was attending her first Dogwood Pageant with her 7-year-old daughter, Laderah, from Harleysville.

"There aren't very many local pageants left," said Reinhart. "It's good for my daughter to see what she can do with her talents with some hard work. They're all so wholesome and it's nice to see the girls have their dreams come true."

Co-Chairperson Claire Harper said that the event "builds self-esteem."

"It's good for their hearts and souls - an upbeat experience," said Harper.

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